Stew Milne-USA TODAY Sports
Kenbrell Thompkins is making a move up the wide receiver depth chart.
The New England Patriots are replacing four of their five leading receivers from last year, and the last of the five, tight end Rob Gronkowski, is currently out while recovering from back surgery. As a result, the Patriots need their rookie pass-catchers to step up and make an immediate impact.
The two players expected to step up immediately are their two drafted wide receivers, second-round pick Aaron Dobson and fourth-round pick Josh Boyce. The training camp spotlight has been stolen, however, by two undrafted rookies making a name for themselves.
Undrafted wide receiver Kenbrell Thompkins has been stealing first-team repetitions away from Dobson and Boyce and “has continued to stand out as a solid possession receiver with vertical skills” according to Jeff Howe of the Boston Herald.
Thompkins did not have considerable production as a collegiate player at Cincinnati, but he has the physical tools to be a much-needed playmaker in the Patriots offense.
Another rookie standout has been undrafted tight end Zach Sudfeld, who could be in line to start immediately if Gronkowski is unable to return in time for Week 1.
He has been “running exclusively with the first unit” according to Ben Volin of the Boston Globe. Volin said Sudfeld has been “catching everything thrown his way and looks potentially like the best tight end on the field.”
I have attended three Patriots training camp practices this offseason and based upon my observations, I would echo everything that Howe and Volin have said about the two undrafted rookies.
Thompkins has displayed the combination of size and athleticism to be a deep threat while also being able to get open and catch the ball well as an intermediate receiver. Sudfeld has terrific size for a tight end, but he is also a very good athlete who has good speed and quickness, runs crisp routes and displays natural hands.